p1: Navarin d’Agneau

Tffa22dd9403391d6b99e3d6445b1a0b4he Dish

I was going to do some more in depth research on this week’s recipe, but I’ve written SO much in my ‘A Word On…’ section that I think I’ll just cut this short, for both of our sakes. This week I’m doing Navarin d’Agneau, or Navarin of Lamb, normally a Springtime-ish dish of, of course, Lamb(or Mutton too, but I keep seeing lamb in recipes so there), stewed slowly and accompanied by fresh, sweet spring vegetables. It’s been compared to the south’s version of Bouef Bourgignon, but made with lamb, white wine, and more green veggies.

It’s often popular around Easter time (damn my timing and hunger for a lamb dish this weekend), a time when it developed; likely as a followed enthusiasm for the popular, rich and heavy mutton stews enjoyed in the winter. Once spring comes around, the only meat available is new, young lamb and the lighter, sweeter spring vegetables. These then coalesced into a stew deserving its own name; of which, many have at one point acclaimed to honor the Battle of Navarino in 1827, but more likely an evolution of ‘Navet,’ or ‘Turnip,’ which is and should be used boldly in this deliciously svelt stew.

A Word On…

Lamb: it seems most recipes are rather in agreement that lamb Shoulder cut is the way to go, either as the sole cut or always included in a mix of them. I also found one very traditional-looking recipe that used lamb ‘neck,’ saying that you could cut it into good sized whole slices (not something I’ve seen any neck, unless it was something as big as a cow, able to do, but hey who knows what part of the neck it was from). I of course stuck with shoulder, but as with any stew, any really flavorful and tough section of the lamb would work wonders; parts of the leg like the shank could be as potentially tasty (and even cheaper), one may just need to ensure it gets enough braising time. Speaking of which, I don’t like the idea of using a heavy beef stock with what is a lighter lamb, especially if it’s supposed to be a more spring-time stew. So instead I use chicken and will sear and stew the lamb bones from the shoulder, or whatever cut used, in with the meat.

Vegetables: Despite the humongous potential in people utilizing an insanely large variety of different vegetation in all these different recipes, I actually found most kept to similar lines and made it easy to narrow down exactly which ones I wanted to use as the ‘minimum base’ for a very traditional navarin d’agneau.

First up, obviously, is the Turnip; gotta have this (though some evil recipes tried substituting it out with potatoes, the bastards), followed by the Carrot. We then see two very green elements, Green Beans and Peas. I ended up getting some Haricots Verts, based on an older French strain of the bean, at the store, along with a package of fresh English peas, which wasn’t my initial plan. I was originally going to go for Frozen peas, which are actually one of the best versions one can get in the store due to peas tendencies to have a VERY short life while not frozen. But this seemed a fine opportunity to keep that spring freshness in tender little bites; plus it was fun to utilize (got a lot left over I’ve been putting in lunches and stuff!).

Finally, the Onion, which deserves some extra consideration. I would say, if we’re talking pure and perfect ideal, we’d want to go for “Spring Onion,” which looks like a green onion but with big, bulbous white end (like a bigger pearl onion, but fresh and with the green shoots). I wanted to do this, but of course none in store. If you’d like to keep that flavor and feeling without going to my following alternatives, I’d say try using Leeks. But with that eliminated, favorite course is usually to turn, much like many stews, towards Pearl Onions. Which I was ALSO gonna do, but then I found a bag of Ciopollini, which are very much like the pearls, but like flat saucers, and usually sweeter and more flavored. It might not be classic, but I sort of couldn’t help myself in playing with these guys for that extra special addition! Just note for preparation that you indeed need to let them boil in water for 1-2 minutes, makes them much easier to peel off nicely.

20150706_152609Tomatoes: Most recipes use an addition of tomatoes and garlic to the stew, either in sautéing beforehand or adding raw to the pot just before leaving to boil (I’m choosing the latter, since I feel I wanna keep the ‘fresh’ and seasonal flavor of all the vegetables here). ‘Crushed’ tomatoes are often the case, and whereas one can just as well and easily use some canned tomato sauce, paste, or crushed versions (nothing wrong with that, especially depending on the quality of tomatoes one can find), I can’t help but want to stick to going for fresh. This requires one to then skin and de-seed them, which is often done through a particular staple technique called ‘Concasse,’ my second reason for pursuing the fresh route; I haven’t done tomatoes concasse in quite a while, thought it’d be nice to do it for once.

20150706_144839This involves a few steps. First, the tomato has an X scored into one end, while the core is cut out of the other; this technique focuses purely on taking out any undesirable element of the tomato and only leaving the tender flesh to work with. So the core must go, and scoring will help promote the skin removal.

To do which, we basically just blanch it like the vegetables; pop in boiling water, but really for only 10-15 seconds at the MOST. At one point the skin will start to split from the cut, and this is when it is to be removed and quickly chilled in ice water (though I once saw a French chef who completely abhors the ice water bath, saying it only removes a little bit more of the flavors). From here, one will easily be able to peel these skins off.

20150706_151311

Following up, we have to deseed; which one could cut the tomato in half or quarters to accomplish, but it’s much easier to ‘peel’ the outer section of flesh off with a nice, almost like you’re trying to cut the thick peel off a grapefruit. As you can see, this easily reveals the big clusters of seeds in the core, to which we can easily just scrape off with our thumbs, and any seeds sticking to the very smooth outer ‘peel’ inside curves. Then we can do whatever we want with them. In order to ‘crush’ them, I basically diced my tomatoes as small as possible, from which I used the flat of my blade to push and scrape across the cutting board, repeating the actions of dicing/slicing and then scraping until it turned into sort of a big wet paste. Basically the same procedure to making minced garlic paste, for those familiar, just much bigger.

Wine: White, always white; I don’t think it strictly has to be white or fantastic, but this feels like a dish where using something super-cheap vs with a nice drinkable can make a noticeable difference. So I myself grabbed a decent and fun, not too distinctively flavored (like sauvignon blanc) dry white with some body that I had in my rack for a while and happily drank the rest with family.

Caramelization: We know how to sear by now, but I found a couple recipes, both from my Larousse and others, use an interesting technique that I’ve never heard before. After the lamb chunks are seared nice and golden, one sprinkles some sugar on them, starts stirring, and cooks on high to get an even FURTHER level of browning and caramelization. Basically it’s combining both sugar caramelizationa and maillard reaction (though I bet when they did this decades back they had no idea it was a separate thing). I’ve got to try this now, right?

20150706_155534They also had us dusting flour in too, very standard when making a stew so the stock can turn into a thick gravy when it reduces. Found another recipe thought I’d try that says, after sprinkling in, moving the pot to a 450F oven helps to promote really good browning of the flour evenly without burning (a technique proven well for making really dark rouxs for things like Gumbo, as seen on Good Eats via Alton Brown).

Stewing Strategy: This is where I had the most doubts and annoyances, figuring out what I wanted to do. I mean, obviously stewing the lamb is straightforward; sear it, add the wine and stock, cook on low heat for a few hours. The main issue came in two forms. First, do I simmer the stew mostly on the stovetop or in the oven? I don’t think there’s any classical reason against either method, so I went for the latter; it just seemed appealing to me, and I do like the idea of it harking back to times when one would start a dish like this in the morning, put the pot in an oven/fire all day, and find it ready and waiting come dinner time.

The second and bigger issue came with the Vegetables. There are SO many different little versions of how these are treated (except for the peas and green beans, those are always just blanched and stirred in the last five minutes to heat and finish the light cooking they need); blanched and sautéed golden and added closer to the end, onions and stuff sautéed WITH the lamb in the beginning, added raw halfway through, trying the ‘glazing’ technique on carrots/etc, blanched and non, etc. It got quite confusing. But there are a few factors that helped me narrow down to what seemed most pure for me. Firstly, this is a dish that, to me, really celebrates the feeling of Spring, the natural freshness to ingredients, everything is young and green and bright, so I think I can cut out anything that requires the vegetables to caramelize.

Secondly, in an effort to make sure the colors and flavors are kept to that attractive freshness, I’ll be blanching every single vegetable (again, boiling water for a bit, then shocking in ice water like w/ tomatoes); not sure if it’s really necessary to do this, besides for the beans and peas, but I wanna try it here. This will invariably reduce how much time they can spend in the stew, so adding in only the last half hour or so. And I WILL be letting the stew do all the cooking; I could try ‘glazed’ vegetables, which would be yummy and pretty, but doing so would mean only adding them in at the end, making them Garniture. Which, in itself, is a classic way to treat vegetables in stews like Boef Bourgignon, but I really want some of that flavor mingling happening, and I’ve found a recipe that relies on the complete vegetable cookery with the lamb (sort of an in between stage between garniture and start-to-finish, soft vegetable+meat stews), and they still get that nice, whole, glazed look to them.

Potatoes/Can-I-Get-a-Side Here?: Stews like this can be served with any number of starch; rice, a side of baguette, pasta (like in Coq au Vin), however I’ve been seeing a lot of mashed potatoes under this one. And when I don’t, often there are potatoes being cooked along with or in place of (tut tut, the one recipe buzzfeed has doesn’t even use these? For shame) the turnips. So to keep that traditional, southern French, sort of rustic feel (and cuz I love stew and mashed taters), that’s what I’ll be doing, and what I suggest anyone ELSE does.

20150706_160202Navarin d’Agneau
2lbs Lamb Shoulder, bones included
2 Tb Oil
1 Tb Sugar
3 Tb Flour
1 cup decent White Wine
2 cups, give or take, Chicken or Beef Stock
2 Tomatoes, prepared Concasse
2-3 Garlic Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
1 Sprig Rosemary
½ bunch of Parsley
1 small bunch Garden Carrots
3 small Turnips
8oz Pearl or Cipollini Onions
1 handful Haricots Verts or other nice Green Beans
¾ – 1 cup Green Peas, frozen or really fresh

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set Dutch Oven, Cast Iron, or other suitably heavy duty large pot on medium-high heat20150706_154319
  2. As this heats up, debone and portion Lamb (helps to have a nice boning knife for this) into even, good-size chunks, about 1-2” size
  3. Coat bottom of hot pan in oil and, in two batches, add your lamb pieces and bones, letting sit in smoking hot oil for about 1-2 minutes until deep brown, flipping over and repeating until at least two sides are evenly golden20150706_154538
  4. Remove all lamb to separate bowl (the first half should be here already after finished browning) and pour off some of the fat in the pan so only a couple tablespoons remain20150706_155125
  5. Sprinkle lamb (and bones) with Sugar and transfer back to hot pan, stirring very often, but not constantly, 2-4 minutes, until a deeper caramelization has occurred and coated more of the meat20150706_155244
  6. Quickly dust with flour, stirring to evenly coat, and move to hot oven. Let sit 3-5 minutes to darken further20150706_155349
  7. Transfer back to hot stove, turning oven down to 350F, add in Wine and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze all the tasty bits and fond, letting the wine cook briefly20150706_155730
  8. Add in enough Stock to just cover, and while it comes to a boil, finely chop and crush both Tomatoes and Garlic into a paste of sorts (sprinkling kosher salt on board helps), toss this into the pot along with a Bouqet Garni of Bay Leaves, Rosemary, and some Parsley Stems (just tie them together with string)20150706_160221
  9. Stir this in and move to the now-reduced oven, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours20150706_145127
  10. While this is going, prepare the vegetables; peel Carrots and Turnips, cutting the latter into 6-8 pieces and carrots as desired, and snip the ends off of the Green Beans. Working one vegetable at a time, blanch each of these, and the Peas, in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (green veggies should develop a nicer, deeper color, carrots should turn a bit brighter, and turnips are a guess) before dunking in an ice water bath20150706_150606
  11. For the Onions, let sit in boiling water 1-2 minutes, let cool slowly and carefully peel off the outer husk so the whole, tender onion is now revealed. Hold this on the side along with all your other blanched vegetables20150706_153057
  12. Remove stew from oven and strain the liquids into a bowl, using the chance to remove all the bones, bouquet garni, and as much chunks of garlic and tomato from the meat as possible. Return sauce and bare lamb to the pot20150706_170047
  13. Nestle and stir in the carrots, turnips, and onions into the stew so they’re all glazed in some sauce. At this point one may need to add just a bit extra stock if it’s already rather reduced and gravy-like20150706_174125
  14. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes before removing and setting on stove as you wait for service (at this point, the stew can be refrigerated for 1-2 days before the meal)20150706_181133
  15. When getting close to service, cut green beans in half and heat stew up to a boil. Mix in the beans and peas and let cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes
  16. Chop remaining Parsley leaves as fine as desired, add to stew, and serve20150706_183721
  17. Spoon over mashed potatoes, rice, or serve with crusty baguette, and Enjoy

The Verdict

20150706_183829It’s been a while since I’ve felt REALLY satisfied with the results of a stew without having to take extra cooking time and other further manipulations to get it looking decent. Lamb came out tender, the stock reduced into a beautiful gravy, got a nice sear on the meat beforehand (actually loved that trick of adding the sugar, you could really see this deep, even burnish of caramelization spread out through the lamb), vegetables were all tender and still had the bite where appropriate, lending their sweetness while at it quite nicely. And of course the flavor was rather delicious, it all came out quite cohesive, that sort of medium-rich body and flavor depth I was looking for; not excessively deep and heavy like super-beefy, usually red wine-based stews can get to (like the Coq au Vin). The only thing I’d say is that I didn’t get any of the flavor from the haricots verts I wanted; texture yes, but either I didn’t get the best quality to begin with (they looked good though… and came from Trader Joes…), I perhaps did some little screwup on the blanching, or I just expected more than what was realistic; they are green beans after all. Either way, the pot I made didn’t last the night; even if it was bigger, I don’t think it’d last the night. And I’m using my leftover blanched veggies tomorrow in some oatmeal lunchie. God I’m really happy about this after waiting a while since my last French 44 recipe.

Primary Pairing – Beaujolais

I’ll give Buzzfeed props for hitting their wine suggestion in the ballpark for this one; a Pinot Noir (though they really do need to specify further than just varietal, pinot noirs come out insanely differently depending on who’s making it and where). Since this dish is cooked in white wine, and the lamb can come out VERY tender when done well, one can easily argue a case for being able to pair with either white or red wines; but if doing the latter, it should be a rather lighter style, with only a small to medium amount of ‘tannins’ since the lamb has barely any chew to it now. Pinot noir fits well, and is often seen as a nice red with very vegetable-heavy dishes.

20150706_183125But I want to find something better still, which is why I looked to the nearby regions. Did you know that the wine we know as Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy region? Yet it’s so far south, and the soils have changed so much, that it’s almost like an extension of the Northern Rhone? The area and wine almost fits more into the character of this South-Eastern region of France, like this dish, than the NE ‘Burgundy-Alsace-Alps’ mentality (it’s on much flatter, hillier ground). And it fits perfectly with a dish like this.

For due to the result of an often-practiced technique called ‘Carbonic Maceration,’ which I won’t get into detail about, the main grape of the region (Gamay) turns an extremely, almost confected fruity nose, and a palette that is really, REALLY low in body and tannin, the perfect kind of level to go with a stew. It also comes out very distinctly lilac-purply in color, unique! Despite the very expressive nose, the palate rarely has  the flavor to back it up, like many a French wine. Instead it holds structure, for us to better enjoy and quaff down alongside our food. And this almost sweet-smelling, plain savory-bodied, low-tannin, decent-acid wine offers up a great opportunity to consume alongside potentially funky, tender lamb and a butt load of sweet vegetables.

But we ideally need something with just a BIT more character than the mass-market Beaujolais and ‘Noveau’ (-shudders-) that we’re used to, which is why I got…

20150706_182829My Bottle: Chateau Thivin, 2011 Côte de Brouilly

There are three classes of Beaujolais. “Noveau,” the cheapest and lowest quality, made super-fast and as early as possible for the masses of people who got dragged into the hype that THIS is the wine that needs to be consumed at holidays; “Villages,” a little better, standard wine from the region, still focusing almost purely on carbonic maceration and its distinct effects; and “Cru Beaujolais.” These last are wines that come from 10 select villages on the top of the single hill that occupies the entire region, and though they all still use carbonic maceration as is tradition, one sees a lot more further fermentation in barrels, long oak aging, and other more traditional and quality-focused practiced. These result in wines that have similar balance and those unique noses of Beaujolais, but with more depth towards ACTUAL wine aromas and flavors, almost as if they were crossed with a nice Burgundy.

And the best part? For French wine, often really GOOD quality French wine, the prices on these Cru are amazing. I got mine for, what, $16-18, the REALLY good regions can reach up to around $30, and it’s worth every penny. All the money is really from the work and quality that’s going into the wine, and not just the added prestige of what supposedly well-renowned subregion from a French wine region can get you. (why I normally hate navigating Bordeaux and Burgundy; so hard to find something that’s WORTH the price unless you know beforehand).

And this one did not disappoint. A little bit more in terms of savory and deeper fruity, slightly toasty flavors helped to mingle with the meaty lamb while we savored the nose in between bites. The distinctly fake-fruity notes aren’t too forward, so I could enjoy them mingling in with the vegetables as a poignant accent. But I’ll very much be looking forward to enjoying the rest of the bottle on its own for the next couple of days, navarin leftovers or not.

LYONESS 2015-05-19 14_04_33Secondary Pairing – English Cider

This IS a dish cooked in white wine, and really tender when done well, so having a white wine as a pairing is not just not out of the question, but it could be argued as the most desired if you can find the right one. But, since I’ve already used my one ‘wine slot’ for the Beaujolais, time for a substitute. Cider is a substitute. Cider tastes good, and has very similar balances to white wine; not to mention lamb is also quite popular in the UK, so going for English Cider with a dish like this is almost regional. They usually come with a little bigger bodies than some of our really light and crisp ciders we’re used to, letting it stand up to the richer lamb, an acidity to cut through this medium richness, and the fresh apple flavor help evoke the feeling of spring even further. And what’s more, the hint of sweetness carries through with the naturally sweet vegetables. And now I’m wishing I had cider instead of wine… talking about it always gets my cravings going…

p1: Gratin Dauphinois

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-25038-1386024391-7Gotta love scalloped potatoes; I was going to save this dish for some other time in the future, maybe a rainy day, but I had a day full of absolutely nothing and a week to go until my next dish, this was a simple item on either list that I could whip together.

Overall, the term Gratin actually harkened back to the little fond or crust left in a baking dish after cooking, or that burned piece of cheese and cream at the bottom of a fondue pot. Always the prized piece of a dish, this would be scraped up and snacked with much affection. After some time, this word transferred to certain foods identified by being cooked in a low, wide ceramic pot that would develop an even, thick crusty top.

Though these can be made with practically anything, the epitome of the Gratin world has been and always will be based on the Potato. Gratin Dauphinois is no exception, having originated in the Southeastern Dauphiné region, being known for something quite unique as opposed to when one normally thinks of “gratin.” At the time of creation, thought to be around the 1700’s, cheese was quite the luxury ingredient, at times being used in a form of currency. A very rustic dish, made by those with not as much money to waste on luxuries for the sake of taste, thus excluded the use of the highly-prepared curdled and aged dairy product. As such it was, and still is, only prepared with Cream or Crème Fraiche and various seasonings.

There’s not much more to say about its history besides that; it became somewhat known after being served with Ortolans at a dinner for Dukes or something, but that’s about it. With a dish like this, who really cares? I just wanna dig right into it and forget all about anything else for a while.

A Word On…

Potatoes: It’s hard to say whether or not there’s a properly “traditional” potato to use for this dish, though I’ve found a few recipes that call for “Desiree,” a French Red potato that supposedly has a yellow, creamy center. What I can say is that most good and/or classic version use either only Waxy (red and sorta yellow) varieties or a combination of Waxy and Starch (brown/russet and sorta yellow), with them keeping a great structure after the long baking while still delivering a creamy flavor.017

The one thing you SHOULDN’T do is you ALL Russet/Starchy potatoes; you just end up with a soft, sorta mushy mix of potatoes and cream… which isn’t bad by any means, I’d eat it. But to make it “proper,” stick to the other kinds. For fun, and because the Buzzfeed recipe link did it, I decided to do a combo-strategy for my own, using some leftover Golden potatoes along with the firm, waxy reds.

Milk and Cream: A lot of recipes seem to differ in how much of each to use, and in fact many instances simply claim the dish uses “milk or cream.” Some use all cream, some almost all milk, and everything in between; the only thing I suggest one not do is use all Milk.

For the purposes of this post, I decided to go with a 3:1 ratio of Cream:Milk, recorded in another blog recipe as a certain chef’s claim to be a good quality, traditional mix. Plus, if I’m gonna make this dish, might as well be cream heavy right?

As for overall amount, basically everything I’ve found states the use of 500-600ml (2 ½ cups ish) of Dairy to every Kg/2.2lbs potato.

Cheese: NO! You move on now! Put the cheese down and go back to the cream! Gratin Dauphinoise does NOT use any of that stuff! If you wanna make a cheesy gratin, fine, but you will NOT slander this classic dish by gluing its name to it! The true, traditional recipe for this (and many others online say and follow the same rules, so I’m backed up on this) use only the cream and/or milk for the classic dish. You should too.

The same goes for using Eggs, a no-no.

Of course I’ve seen quite a few posts saying that, though comforting, this creates a somewhat bland potato dish. To which I say, any TRULY “bland” food is made not from the dish but from the cook who didn’t season the food properly like they should have. Don’t be afraid of the Salt and Pepper; I put it in the cream and on the potatoes as I layer them. At the end of the day it makes something that’s full, rich, with that heightening and deepness of milk and cream fats that’s simple, yes, but oh so good.

Cooking: A lot of people, when it comes to this dish that only relies on potatoes, milk, and cream, basically rely on Boiling the potato slices in the dairy for a while before layering and baking it out. This is a great technique and makes a nice, thick, blended combobulation of food, really bringing the starch content out to set the sauce. However, some researching has found that, again, a True dauphinoise gratin ONLY relies on Baking the potatoes in the hot cream. Going for the classic sense as I am, I of course am sticking with this style, of which a few things should be taken note.

First, I’d say it really is important that, in this situation, one should stick with the higher cream content strategy in their dairy (all cream would work). Secondly, since you can’t just set the potatoes directly in the boiling milk right after cutting, one needs to work quickly in the peeling, slicing, and covering in the dairy mix so they don’t start to brown and oxidize. Finally, NO WATER! No rinsing, no soaking, no doing anything of the sort, like many recipes call for to clean or whatever. Though important in many other recipes, we need to reserve as MUCH natural starch as we possibly can, and contact with water just washes off some of this. So be a dear, save it for the cream, it needs it!

A final note, this cooking is usually done for a long time on a lower degrees, about 320F, until fully baked through; supposedly needing to be turned up at the end to get a crisp top, though I found there was no problem of that for me.

Seasonings: I’ve already talked about the salt and pepper, which leaves the issue: what else do we flavor this with?

Well, if you’re trying to stay truly traditional, then nothing, other than garlic. And even that you’re only use to rub the baking pan with. However, there are a couple very classic, non-obtrusive French practices when it comes to making cream-based sauces that I think are acceptable while still keeping the dish “true.” A little seasoning of Nutmeg is always fine and increases depth a bit, and I made the decision to take the rubbing garlic and toss it in the cream while it was heating up, just so it was a bit more present.

And if one doesn’t care too much about precise historical practices, Herbs! Herbs are amazing with gratins like this, whether it’s some fresh-picked thyme between the layers or chopped chives sprinkled on top for serving. Oh, and not to forget Leeks and Green Onions, they’d be pretty good… bacon too… I mean overall this dish is an amazing canvas in which to add almost anything to customize to your own tastes or whatever it’s being eaten with. Of course at that point it’s left true dauphinoise territory and moved into just delicious gratin, but who’d complain about on a Friday night?

Gratin Dauphinoise
3 Garlic cloves
1 7/8 cup Cream
5/8 cup Whole Milk
Salt and Pepper
Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 kg/ 2.2 lbs mixed Red and Starchy potato

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 320F.013
  2. Cut or crush a clove of Garlic, rubbing it thoroughly around your chosen baking/casserole dish. Thoroughly butter the sides after and turn to your food prep.016
  3. Combine Garlic, Cream, Milk, and a heavy seasoning of Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in a sauce pot, turning to medium/med-high heat.015
  4. While this is heating, quickly peel and slice the Potatoes, cutting to a maximum 1/8” thickness, ideally via mandolin or food processor.019
  5. Once the cream has come to a boil, start putting together the gratin. Layer half the potatoes into the dish, no need to make it pretty. Season with more salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pour over half of the hot cream on top, straining as you do so.020
  6. If not already done, finish slicing the rest of the potatoes, arrange on top in a nice layer (if desired), pouring the rest of the hot cream on top until it comes just below the rim of the potatoes.021
  7. Move to oven, baking for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy.           Note: unless the baking dish is raised notably higher than the potatoes, I suggest placing it on another sheet, as it’ll likely start bubbling over.023
  8. Remove, letting rest and cool at least 5 minutes to settle. Scoop up and serve with desired protein, roasts work good, or grilled shrimp if you wanna go for an “alfredo” feeling.

The Verdict

I can see why this is one of Pepin’s favorite home comfort foods; when done right, it’s just soft, creamy goodness. You almost forget there’s no cheese in here, with how rich and developed that dairy comes through. Those saying that it’s bland are just psychotic, I could eat this kind of food every day and be happy; speaking of which, it really IS good cold the next day, the cream thickens up and sticks to it like a nice, gooey glaze.026

Which does come to my one issue; while cold it’s perfect, I found this particular method of Dauphinoise a bit lacking in the liquid consistency after baking. Or, put simply, the cream didn’t thicken up as much as I had wanted to while cooking. Still tastes damn good and all, but it’s a bit disconcerting seeing all that leftover sauce still in the dish and not sticking like glue to those creamy potatoes.

I think next time I might try the boiling-potatoes-in-cream-first method, see how that turns out. But either way, this guy’s already moved up as one of my new favorite go-to sides for any dinner.025

Primary Pairing – Hefeweizen or Kolsch

024When I’m eating something so rustic, comforting, and soul-satisfying as these potatoes, my first choice of inebriation almost always goes to a good beer. And after a brief consultation with a friend, we both agree that the best to go with this dish are gonna be the Pale, Low-Bitter and lesser Hopped varieties, Ales preferably but Lagers fit right in of course. The top two choices of course are the German Kolsch and Wheaty Hefeweizen (meaning “yeast” and “wheat”); my first pick going to the weissbier for its cloudy, creamy unfiltered body that just goes great with potatoes.

But both styles have a great, full white head, a sharp crispness and BARE hop to cut through the fat, and simpler, subtler flavors that mix and don’t compete with the gratin. Following that style, I would also advocate, and personally crave, a nice cold glass of Pilsner, especially if I was cooking/eating this with plenty of herbs to match the slightly higher hop content.

Of course final decision always depends on what protein one eats this with, if any. My friend also suggested the use of Barleywine (a big, high alcohol and super malty and hoppy creation) as an option to fully compete and contrast the heavy, rich aspect of the dish. And I myself would say it’s a perfect option if having it with a nice Roast Beef.

022My Bottle: Blanche de Bruxelles

‘Cuz I had a bottle in the cupboard, and ‘cuz it’s one of my favorite pale beers! I remember drinking a couple glasses after a day of work in the kitchen, was always one of the most refreshing items on tap.

A Belgian “white beer” that implements wheat along with its barley, this light and cutting drink brought that element of frothy, creamy texture that lifted the rich potatoes perfectly. A slight fullness, that delicate simple flavor of citrus and yeasty fruit that goes so well with cream dishes, and a bit of bitterness to cut any needed fat (and also went well with the charred shrimp I ate it with). It might not have been the “ideal” pairing, not sure if it really was strong enough to truly stand up or not, but it worked well and I had a very enjoyable experience with it, yet again.

Secondary Pairing – Southern/Cotes du Rhone Blanc

Being sorta in the Languedoc/Meditteranean coastal area of France, the white wines close to the Dauphiné haven’t gained much fame, mainly due to the changing developments in the region from mass-produced wine lakes to quality focused vineyards. Varietal choices are still across the board, as are styles and personality.

Not as close but still in the vicinity lies the Southern Rhone, mainly known for their blended Reds, also offering Whites blends made from a mix of the typical area Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and various other random grapes. Though, like the reds, overall flavor and balance varies greatly, in the glass they end up generally low key, medium acidic, slightly fatty wines when done well, and simple pitcher wine when not-so-well. Either way, they end up a pretty good option to go with the sorta-heavy, single-note flavors of these soft potatoes, a nicely neutral simple companion or a balanced glass of light florals and heady skin, something that’ll refreshingly cut through and/or fill and lift the palette nicely alongside. I had a really great white from Chateneuf-du-Pape a while back that would have held itself beautifully next to these potatoes.

On a side note, though Red wine certainly isn’t my first choice to eat with this (unless it’s paired with a protein that demands it), I will say that Buzzfeed’s choice of using something from Beaujolais wouldn’t be too bad. I think you’d have to be careful of your choice, since the unique flavors and tannins from the carbonicly macerated Gamay grapes could have really odd interactions with the fat-heavy Cream, but of the French Reds it’d be one of my first choices. Even better, the Beaujolais Blancs made from Chardonnay might yield even more impressive results.